Returning home from a mission? Not sure what to do next? Read this…

We’re really pleased to bring you this guest post from Jen McCanna, a leadership, career and team coach working with 1-1 and organisational clients within the charity and not-for-profit sectors.

Change is hard. Especially if you’re changing country, and job role, and aren’t sure what happens next.

Coming back to a country which isn’t the one you left behind is hard. If you’ve been working in international aid or development, trying to work out how the skills you had in the field apply to roles back home is hard. Do you suit a head office job, or do you go for something totally unrelated content wise but which focuses on the fast-paced problem solving nature of your past work?

People talk about culture shock relating to working in a new country but there are lots of culture shocks associated with coming back, not least the chasm between life in a head office and life in the field – the ways of working, the politics and the pace.

It’s worth keeping in mind your reasons for returning home. What do you want to get out of life here? What did you love, and what didn’t you love, about working in the field? What motivated you? Have those motivations changed? Thinking through the contexts in which you thrive can be the key to a smoother work life transition.

Understanding personal and organisational values often plays an important part in the coaching I do with clients who work in the charity sector. There is an expectation that because the charity’s mission is aligned to a client’s own goals, its values will match too. That may be the case. But no organisation can uphold the values of all its employees all the time. And whereas if I worked for a global bank I might not expect it to, when a charity lets me down, there’s a danger I’ll disengage.

Here’s a quick exercise you can do to get in touch with environments in which you thrive: think about the role in which you were happiest, most content, free to be creative or whatever it is that makes you shine. Jot down on a piece of paper all the things about that role that enabled you: what was your manager like, what values did that organisation exhibit in how they went about their business, what did other people say about that organisation? If you could describe the work culture in three positive words, what would they be?

Now think about a role in which you’ve been less happy, less able to do your best work. What was at play? What held you back? Which bits of that were about you (e.g. lack of confidence in a skill area, stuff happening outside of work) and which were about the organisation (the culture, management priorities, level of change and so on.) Jot these down on the other half of your piece of paper.

When you read both sides of the exercise back, do you see any patterns or links? What reflections do you have?

Last year I moved from London to Sheffield and gave up a role as L&D manager and internal coach within an NGO to working 100% freelance. Hardly rural Rajasthan to Singapore but still, surprisingly, a culture shock in both my home and work life.

What helped? Keeping in mind that a change can be both the right choice for my family and really challenging all at the same time, seeking out others who had done the same so we could share experiences, and looking forward to the new stuff together too.

Whatever the role you’ve held in a charity, my guess is you have a varied and impressive skillset. There is need everywhere, not just on the front line and not just overseas and not just in the charity sector. That post Brexit, post truth thing ……. Well I think we might be in for a long slog, and we could just use some folk who can put it all into context.

With Love, Jen

I am a leadership career and team coach working with 1-1 and organisational clients within the charity and not-for-profit sectors. I work with those seeking new careers, those newly into senior roles or clients who are experiencing the challenge of change and need someone to walk alongside them, helping them to figure it all out. Having worked as both a fundraising manager and then Learning & Development manager for VSO for 8 years, my clients now include British Red Cross, Action Aid, Breast Cancer Care and Charities Aid Foundation.

For coaching packages specifically aimed at those in charity who are at a career crossroads, please visit For more about leadership coaching please visit

You can also follow me at at on Twitter @jenthecoach or look me up on LinkedIn.